November 3, 2011
By Chris Lehmann
Note to tourists visting New York: Don’t be caught out without your ID, or you could be caught in the city’s penal system for days, if the recent experience of 21-year-old college student Samantha Zucker is anything to go by.
Actually, Zucker barely qualifies as an out-of-towner, since she hails from the Westchester town of Ardsley. And the underlying charge that led to her tour in jail was a minor trespassing citation, dismissed by a presiding judge in no time.
But no matter: A vigilant NYPD officer deemed her a sufficient threat to public safety to have her handcuffed and jailed in two different cells across the length of Manhattan.
The whole ordeal began with a trip to Riverside Park, as Zucker recounts to New York Times columnist James Dwyer. Zucker is enrolled in a design program at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University; together with 80 of her colleagues, she spent a long day on Oct. 21 scouting out prospective employment scenarios in New York’s sprawling fashion industry. After pounding the pavement, she dropped off her bags at her West Harlem hotel. From there, she and fellow student Alex Fischer decided to stroll over to Riverside Park, to gaze out on the Hudson.
There was just one problem: The two park visitors arrived at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 22, and the park is officially closed to visitors as of 1 a.m. A police car pulled up, and the officers in it informed the two students of their trespass. Zucker and Fischer explained that they hadn’t known of the park’s curfew, and turned around to leave. By then, however, another NYPD car appeared, and the officer driving it announced he was citing them for trespassing, and demanded their IDs. Fischer produced his driver’s license and was let go–but Zucker had left her identification back at the hotel, two blocks away. She apologized, and told the officer that she could have Fischer or another friend fetch it.
But no dice. “He said it was too late for that, I should have thought of it earlier,” she told Dwyer. At that point, as Dwyer writes, the wheels of justice locked grimly into gear; Zucker was handcuffed and led into a surreal maze of detention:
For the next 36 hours, she was moved from a cell in the 26th Precinct station house on West 126th Street to central booking in Lower Manhattan and then — because one of the officers was ending his shift before Ms. Zucker could be photographed for her court appearance, and you didn’t think he was going to take the subway uptown while his partner stayed with her at booking, did you? — she was brought back to Harlem.
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